"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Saved by Grace: The Holy Spirit's Work in Calling and Regeneration | Main | Our God and Savior, Jesus Christ »

    Images of the Savior (24 -- The Giving of the Law)

    And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast; and all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out from the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. And Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because Yahweh descended upon it in fire, and its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook exceedingly. – Exodus 19:16-18

    The occasion of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, when God went down in terrible glory to meet with his people whom he had redeemed, and to speak with them audibly, and to declare to them all his will and commandments, would forever afterward shape the character of the nation of Israel, and serve as the unalterable foundation upon which she was built, dictating the nature of her relationship with God, showing with manifold precision the way in which she must ever conduct herself, and forecasting with implacable exactness the response that Yahweh would have to any covenant unfaithfulness that should be found in her. It was the Law that should serve as the greatest self-revelation of Yahweh until the coming of his perfect and final self-revelation in the eternal Word; and so it was the Law that should come to the fore again and again in all the poetic writings of David, in the thundering condemnations and announcements of judgment that the prophets brought down against rebellious Israel, and in the sweet glimpses of conquering mercy and steadfast covenant love with which they bound up the remnant of grace. The Law was the very backbone of God's pre-incarnational revelation: and so it is most appropriate that the Law should prefigure and teach of Christ in several diverse ways, which we will now consider.

    First, the Law was a schoolmaster designed in different ways to teach Israel of her need of Christ. We see from the beginning that the Law was insufficient in several respects to bring about the final happiness of God's people: in the first place, it was evidently not a clear enough revelation of the manifold character of Yahweh to satisfy the longings of his people to know again in an intimate and personal acquaintance that God with whom they had lost all fellowship in Adam. This basic insufficiency was signaled by the presence of a thick smoke upon the mountain, which shielded the weak and sinful eye from a full apprehension of the fierce and dazzling glory of the thrice-holy God. In the giving of the Law, Israel did indeed see the glory of God in such an unprecedented way that they trembled exceedingly; but even that great revelation was clouded and obscure, and so taught of the need for a revelation of the Lord which would be fuller and clearer yet.

    And then, even though the revelation of God's character was clouded and obscure, yet to the extent that it could be apprehended by the people of Israel, it rather terrified than comforted them, and so taught them of their need for someone who would adapt the glory of God to a state conformable to their pitiful weakness, and who would fit them to come into his presence with boldness. Oh, how the affrighted children of Israel, who would groan for many centuries under the yoke of the Law, must have longed for the Messiah to come and reveal the fullness of God's nature to them, not overwhelming them with terror, but comforting and sustaining them; not quenching the smoldering wick or breaking the bruised reed (cf. Isaiah 42:3), but binding up and healing, and fitting them to come to God. And oh, how much more fully and gently did the Son of God accomplish this great task than the dearest saint of them all could ever have dreamed or anticipated!

    We see as well the insufficiency of Moses, who brought the people into God's presence, but could not bring them up the Mount, or take them into God's very bosom, as it were, but left them trembling at the foot of the mountain, with strict bounds imposed against their further advance (see Hebrews 12:18-24). And finally, we see the insufficiency of the Law, and how that very insufficiency pointed the people straight to the all-sufficient Christ, especially in this, that it marked out with unyielding exactitude the moral excellency and holiness of the Lord, and demanded of all his people that same excellency, and thereby showed them again and again, through their failure to keep with all their heart those heavy commandments, how powerless they were to be found in the presence of a pure and mighty God; but immediately following every failure, it directed them to the altar of burnt offering, where in a figure the substitutionary ministry of Christ purified them of all their sins, and fitted them once again to come to God. Thus it is that, immediately after the giving of the ten commandments, the people cried out, “Let us not speak with God, lest we die!” (Exodus 20:19); and in response, God instructed them how to make an altar, as if to say, “Of course you will die if you speak with me; and yet I have provided a way for you to see me and live, by imposing that merited death upon a spotless substitution” (Exodus 20:22-26). In this way, the Law cried out every day of the need for a Savior, and showed forth in a bloody figure the ministry of the Savior who should come. But no matter how many rivers of blood flowed from the Temple in the following centuries, the children of Israel still had no final forgiveness of sin or cleansing of the conscience. For that, they all looked ahead to and yearned for the coming of the Lamb of God, who truly does take away the sin of the world.

    Second, the Law taught the people of God, not only of their need for a Savior, but it taught them moreover of what kind of Savior he should be who would come. Consider the great diversity of God's excellence that was displayed on Sinai: we see first his great covenant faithfulness and unalterable mercy and love, in that he had just redeemed his people from Egypt, in accordance with the promise he had made to their fathers, bringing them out with great power, as it were on eagles' wings (Exodus 19:3-6); then, we see his remarkable condescension, in stooping from his throne on high to dwell upon a mountain of earth, and coming down to meet with his people in visible splendor; we see his fierce glory and unapproachable radiance in the fire that burned upon the Mount, and his awesome power in the thunderings and lightnings, and the blasts that shook the mountain. And finally, we see his provision of a mediator in the ministry of Moses. In all these things, we get a glimpse of the coming Messiah, who should be holy and pure, and obey perfectly that heavy law which demanded strict obedience; who should prove the love and faithfulness of God; who should condescend to his people with an unimaginable humility, taking on the form of a servant, and coming to be in the likeness of a man (see Philippians 2:5-8); and who should be the great mediator between God and men (see 1 Timothy 2:5), bringing down the very words of God to his people, and bringing them into his presence.

    Third, the Law taught the people how to worship Christ, and how to come before him. Consider for a moment how all the commandments teach most particularly of Christ: in the first, we learn that there is no other God but Jesus Christ our Savior; in the second, we are taught that there is no image of God but Jesus, who shines forth with all the glory of the godhead bodily, and has engraved the very essence of the godhead upon human flesh (John 1:14, 18; Hebrews 1:1-4; Colossians 2:9); in the third, we are taught to revere that name which is above every name, and to bow down before it, which is the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:9-11); in the fourth, we are taught to rest in the all-sufficient work of Jesus, and to labor to enter into him who is our sabbath rest (see Hebrews 3:7-4:11); in the fifth, we learn to love the Father as Jesus loved the Father, and we are brought into the inter-Trinitarian covenant of Love as the younger brothers and sisters of Jesus (see Hebrews 2:10-13; Romans 8:29; John 17:20-23); in the sixth, we remember that Jesus is the Life, and we honor him who has perfectly displayed the image of God in human flesh (John 14:6; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:1-4); in the seventh, we remember that we are the pure and spotless bride of Christ, and that he has washed us and made us beautiful with his own blood, freeing us to be his and his alone (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:6-9); in the eighth, we are reminded that Jesus has given us everything that we could ever need or desire, blessing us with every spiritual blessing, and making us co-heirs with him (Ephesians 1:3; Romans 8:17), so that none of the counterfeit pleasures of the world could satisfy us, for fellowship with him is greater than all the riches of Egypt (cf. Hebrews 11:24-26); in the ninth, we see that Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6), and are taught to flee from every lie and deception with which the father of lies turns aside the children of darkness to their ruin (2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 4:18); and in the tenth, we are taught that there is nothing we could possibly desire when we have Jesus: he is our Treasure and our exceeding great Reward (Matthew 13:44-46; Genesis 15:1), and nothing is lovely or desirable next to him (Song of Solomon 5:10-16), in whom we have been brought into all the glories of the dwellingplace of God.

    As we look to the giving of the Law, and of the decalogue in particular, let us remember the perfect work of Jesus, who fulfilled all its statutes, imputed his merited righteousness to us, and took all the thundered curses upon his own head in our place. Let us look past Moses, who gave the Law to the people and brought them to the Mount, but could not fully reveal God, nor finally fit his people to come to him; and let us look instead to Christ, who after his baptism came up into another Mountain, and proclaimed in a more perfect fullness the very essence of the perfect Law of God. Let us look upon him as the greater Law-giver, who shone with a more brilliant glory, displayed a more terrible power, condescended with a deeper humility, won a more perfect righteousness, and offered himself up as a more spotless Sacrifice, so that he might do what Moses and the Law could never do, and bring us into the very abode of God, with eyes washed and strengthened to behold him indeed and rejoice before him in purity. But most of all, let us look beyond Mount Sinai, which trembled and groaned beneath God's terrible glory, and fix our eyes on Mount Calvary, where God once again descended to reveal finally and perfectly all those diverse perfections which he had shown forth only in a shadow on Sinai long before. For there on Calvary, as well, were thunderings and lightnings and darkness as at the first; but instead of an inadequate display of his character to a people unable to see him and live, he showed forth his mercy, love, power, justice, holiness, and so on, fully and adequately, and at the same time made his people capable of seeing him in the truth and coming before him in confidence, where they might rejoice and worship forevermore.

    Posted by Nathan on September 19, 2008 09:20 AM

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